According to Moz, Google algorithm changes happen about 500-600 times yearly. That’s quite a bit of change in the way Google SERPs analyze and rank your content. The good news? There’s a distinguishable trend towards favoring a quality flow across all content pages published over the web.
Yes, one of the online content trends for 2014 is quality. And we’re not just talking about the quality products or service your brand or business is offering. We’re taking quality content, which boils down to good old-fashioned quality writing. True quality is going to be integral and depend on:
- Proper planning
- Keeping it interesting
- Keeping it relevant and fresh
- Seasoning with search engine optimization techniques
- Creating backlinks
Once Upon A Time, Keywords Ruled
When SEO was young, it was a kingdom ruled by keywords. If you wanted to be the king on any search engine results page, you had to research and insert specific keywords and phrases into your web pages and online content. It didn’t matter if the keywords read perfectly in the sentence or not. They had to be exact – otherwise rankings fell.
Google Panda was the game changing algorithm update here. In late 2011, a big change was made from ranking keyword-focused content to higher quality, more reader-friendly content. What exactly was the big change?
According to HeBS Digital, Google said goodbye to keyword-centric SEO and changed the very direction of search engine queries in relation to websites. The change directly affected marketing strategies. Instead of providing searched for keywords to website analytics tools, Google moved to a nondisclosure policy. Says HeBS Digital , “Google is not disclosing to website owners the keyword terms visitors use to find the site, e.g. ‘downtown Houston hotels’ or ‘Hotel near Times Square’.”
At first, this change felt like doom rolling into the SEO kingdom. Businesses gasped in horror because a strong percentage of their sales came from website revenue, revenue that was directly related to the influx of traffic via keyword placement!
“The major shift on behalf of Google marks the end of the keyword-centric era and ushers in the page-centric era,” wrote HeBS Digital. “This new initiative is in tune with [the] Google Panda Update, which punishes low-quality content that provides poor user experience and engagement.”
The New Hero, Quality Content
As the Keyword King was dethroned, the new fearless hero made an entrance. However, this hero wasn’t really a new face. According to HeBS Digital, “Without keyword-specific data, SEO marketers must focus on what [we have] been supporting all along: relevant, editorial-quality website content.” Instead of depending solely on keywords to drive and corral the audience, it was time to use the more precise tools of the newly, officially crowned hero:
- Create engaging content
- Use professional copywriting
- Develop a content creation plan
- Use SEO monitoring technology
Matt Cutts, Google’s head of web spam, expanded on the new way of doing things. Cutts said, “A lot of people [think] there’s some one recipe, and you can just follow like baking cookies, and if you follow it to the letter, you’ll rank number one.” However, this way of thinking was shockingly incorrect. No single, perfect recipe for quick bake SERPs exists—not then and not now.
How does the Google expert say to use keywords? Instead of haphazardly stuffing content, Cutts says, “Think about the keywords that you’d like to have in your copy. Make sure your copy is long enough that you can work those keywords into your copy in a natural way and not an artificial way. And my recommendation is to either read it aloud or read it to someone else or have someone else read it, and sort of say, ‘Do you spot anything that’s artificial or stilted or that doesn’t quite read right?’ And if you can read through the copy, and have it read naturally where a person isn’t going to be annoyed by it, then you’re doing relatively well.”
Why the change? Wouldn’t stuffing keywords be easier than actually writing editorial-quality copy? The biggest reason for this change was to cut down on the spam in keyword-focused pages. Keyword-focused pages might well have increased website traffic and led to a statistical increase in several key areas, but they also accomplished on major thing that even Cutts said to avoid: they annoyed readers.
The old keyword techniques just don’t work as well as they used to. “When was the last time that anyone wanted to read copy that included many repetitions of a word that didn’t provide any additional context or information which helped the reader? Not very many,” says Search News Central.
Google’s Panda upgrade permanently dethroned keywords. And it all happened for one simple reason, which Search News Central sums up by saying, “The biggest reason [for this change] is that documents that lace themselves with hundreds of keyword repetitions looks like spam. So much so that it becomes unreadable for the normal human being.”
Plot Twist: Your New Focus
Since keyword research is clearly no longer a driver in SEO, what should you focus on? Well-researched content that delivers stellar readability is HUGE. This will do so much more for you than content that solely focuses on keyword optimization.
- Instead of zeroing in on a keyword, make it the last thought as you write your content. You might say it’s time to start thinking of keywords and phrases as takeaway points. They are that tidbit of information you want the audience to remember. It’s likely your keywords are all related to your niche. By infusing the takeaway moment with your keyword or phrase, you’ll silently train your audience to come back to and look for your content in regards to that topic or key point.
- Write to educate, inform, and share knowledge. What lasts longer than the latest and greatest product or service? A way of thinking. Your goal should be to generate the kind of well-researched and well-written content that educates, informs, and shares knowledge with everyone who reads it. Share facts that are backed up by research. Incorporate precise numbers such as exact statistics or results from a case study. Above all, reference and link your research. As a result, you’ll promote your way of thinking. Arming the audience with fact will only benefit your credibility, authority, and sales.
- Keep your angle fresh. This can be easier said than done, especially when you simply cannot find a fresh angle to approach your content from. In an article about content for search engine rankings, SearchEngineLand.com says, “Sites can take advantage of [a] freshness boost by producing relevant content that matches the real-time pulse of their industry.” In other words, trend with your industry and present the latest and greatest relevant information with your own spin. No one has a voice exactly like yours, which is why your spin will help preserve freshness and uniqueness.
- Write to engage. According to SearchEngineLand.com, “Quality content should produce meaningful interactions with users.” You can consider your content successful when it generates chatter. You want to see comments from your readers. You want to see them sharing your content via their social networking channels. You want to create a reaction. Write to engage by harboring a conversational style, incorporating real-world experiences, and telling a story.
- Market your content. You can accomplish this in a number of ways. Moz offers two excellent suggestions in a piece on how to write great content: 1) “Post your post on a popular blog,” and 2) “[Use] your own social media [channels].”
A Final Word Regarding Keyword Research
Obviously, keywords are not dead. Instead of being a focal point, they are now that coveted secret ingredient to your favorite recipe (but remember that there’s no one recipe for rankings!). Keyword research is still a part of SEO. So, how should you perform such research for web content? Here are some ideas straight from an expert, Copyblogger:
- Choose possible keywords to kick-start your research.
- Determine the popularity and competition score of each of your keywords.
- Discover (and research) other related keywords.
- Check the trending data on your keywords. You can do this by using Google Trends.
- Do some research on how your keyword(s) is/are being used in trending social network conversations.
- Examine your research results, and ultimately choose the keyword(s) you want to target for your site.
- Don’t be afraid of hiring help. If keyword research boggles your brain and leaves you short of breathe, don’t be afraid to enlist the help of a trained professional. Most copywriting agencies are equipped to lend a hand or point you toward a seasoned pro.
In summary, keywords have now become that little something extra that we add for emphasis and throw in for good measure. They are no longer the focal point of search engine optimization. Moving forward, it’s important that you use them wisely (and sparingly!) while focusing on the new SEO trend of editorial-quality copy. Do this and you will be well on your way to learning and applying the moral of The Tale of Too Many Keywords.